The Damocles Network is the judicial arm of Reporters Without Borders. It was founded in December 2001 in response to the alarming fact that more than 500 journalists had been killed, murdered or were missing as result of trying to do their job over the past 10 years. The vast majority of these crimes have gone unpunished for lack of serious investigation, sufficient means or political will.
With contempt for the victims and for the law, those responsible for such deeds have obtained complete impunity for themselves. By silencing inconvenient witnesses, the killers of journalists issue a warning to all those who provide us with news, sometimes in difficult conditions, and freedom of expression, the cornerstone of any democracy, is killed too.
The Network operates at various levels, working closely with Reporters Without Borders, to end this impunity enjoyed by the murderers and torturers of journalists, whether they are the actual killers or the brains behind the crime. The Network sends out fact-finding missions, helps victims or their families to take legal action in national or international courts and conducts wide-ranging publicity campaigns to expose the crimes.
But the Network does more than just take action after the abuses have been committed. It helps improve the safety and protection of journalists and distributes a Charter for the Safety of Journalists Working in War Zones or Dangerous Areas drawn up by Reporters Without Borders in 2002.
The Charter spells out eight principles which, if followed by those who run the media, would help prevent or reduce risks faced by journalists working in dangerous situations. It has been widely distributed and media have been invited to sign it. The Network also helps protect and assist journalists with cut-price insurance for reporter-photographers, journalists and freelances. It even loans freelances bullet-proof jackets for use in war zones.
The Network also looks at all kinds of issues and problems concerning the media. It has organised workshops on topics such as confidentiality of journalists’ sources and also one on propaganda media, which produced a Declaration on the Safety of Journalists and Media Personnel in Situations Involving Armed Conflict, which listed the principles of international humanitarian law protecting them in such circumstances.
The Network is helping the fight against impunity enjoyed by those responsible for international crimes, whether the victims are journalists or not. Its website contains a handbook for victims of international crimes that answers the questions victims have in their quest for retribution and suggests ways to file a legal complaint.
Another guide, to the International Criminal Court, can also be downloade in English, French and Spanish from the website. It explains the workings of this new permanent international body, what its jurisdiction is and how victims can use it.
The Damocles Network includes legal experts, lawyers, judges, journalists and specialists in international humanitarian law, press law and the sociology of the media. It can also draw on the skills of forensic sientists and experts in ballistics, poisons and other fields, each of whom makes a technical and legal contribution to the cases handled.
It also works closely with the national branches of Reporters Without Borders (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom), its regional offices (Abidjan, Bangkok, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, Nairobi, New York, Tokyo) and its correspondents worldwide, as well as with professional bodies and local human rights groups.